Healing Means Touch

The annual conference of the Medical Section, to be held September 12 to 17, will address the subjective human body. Wolfgang Held interviewed section leaders Matthias Girke and Georg Soldner.


Matthias Girke

The subjective body is what is closest to us and at the same time what is most distant—isn’t it?

Matthias Girke It is interesting that we actually speak of a “lower, subjective body” (Unterleib) and an “upper, objective body” (Oberkörper). This shows me that we connect quite differently with the upper and lower human being. We have a deep soul-spiritual connection with the lower body—also the will, because we use it for our actions. Our consciousness sits in the upper body—it is not easy to move the bones that make up the head. In this respect, the contradiction within our physical basis that has, on the one hand, the character of the subjective body (Leib) and, on the other hand, the character of the objective body (Körper)—this is part of our physiology. In one instance we are more connected to it and in the other we are more alienated from it. It is precisely this alienation from the subjective body that we want to work on at our annual conference and build a bridge to the idea of the subjective body as the temple of the I. By contrast, today we understand the objective body as something external, something to be optimized.

Georg Soldner

Georg Soldner We can use the objective body as a stage, even try to change it surgically. It is different with the subjective body: this refers to the dimension in which I live. It is a living process which I cannot simply step out of. As Thomas Fuchs says, we can “have” the objective body, but we live in the subjective body. In recent centuries we have increasingly elaborated the objective corporeality of our existence, which is where we develop consciousness and self-consciousness. We have also developed admirable medical skills to repair or surgically treat the objective body after serious injuries, for example. At the same time, however, autoimmune diseases are on the increase, diseases in which what we call our immune system—that which we ourselves are—attacks this subjective body. That is why such diseases will be of particular interest to us at the annual conference.

I was touched by a comment made by the Christian Community priest Anand Mandaiker: he says that “homelessness” today ranges from the cosmic to gender, to subjective corporeality.

Girke Thomas Fuchs calls it “making oneself at home”. I find it very interesting that the former president of the Drug Commission of the German Medical Profession has written an article about the need for a medicine of touch. He also refers to Thomas Fuchs in how he defines illness: a subjective body is turned into an objective body—it becomes an object. This can be seen clearly in stroke patients: when they lift their arm from one position to another, this is objective embodiment out of the subjective body. Conversely, being healthy, in keeping with Thomas Fuchs, means, “subjective embodiment of the objective corporeality”—the objective body again becomes the subjective body and instrument of the human being.

The medicine of touch naturally plays a great role in Anthroposophic Medicine, in terms of body, soul and spirit, in order to form a house for the human being. The many body therapies that exist aim at such forming of the subjective body. How can I subjectively embody myself—not just objectively? That is the question, and what always really touches me is the experience that this subjective body is very individually tailored to each human being. Even with identical twins, experienced mothers and fathers manage to notice a difference. So there is individuation in the subjective body. What we are as a distinctive and unique self is reproduced on this subjective bodily level. It is, if we follow Rudolf Steiner’s description, the I-organization that individualizes everything in the subjective body. So every configuration in this subjective body is the result of the I-organization, and in this respect we are rightly intensively connected with this subjective corporeality. At the same time, this subjective corporeality can become alienated from us when we are no longer connected to the subjective body and then have to deal with illnesses that are becoming more frequent—illnesses which, interestingly enough, often have psychosomatic causes and show themselves in the growth of autoimmune diseases.

In Buddhism there is the advice: deal with a subjective body in such a way that your soul feels at ease in it. Is it about conditions of incarnation?

Soldner The soul cannot avoid all pain when entering the subjective body. When researchers talk about embodiment today, this refers to what we mean by the anthroposophical concept of incarnation. Today we increasingly see children and young people who cannot fully connect with their subjective bodies. We know that crises in childhood and adolescence—going through crises and challenges in the subjective body—is important in order to penetrate this body, to make it a person’s own body. Acute febrile diseases play an important role here, as does intense physical exercise. This topic will occupy us at the annual conference: what are the conditions for healthy penetration of the subjective body, for adoption of the body? By this I don’t mean that I have learned to put on make-up, but that I can penetrate this subjective body with the will and thus also experience bodily strength and freshness. Today many children already feel exhausted at kindergarten age. We want to investigate this phenomenon.

Girke Rudolf Steiner addresses the inner essence of the human being and its connection with the subjective body in the Foundation Stone Meditation. Three times it is said that the soul lives in the subjective body. It is a kind of life connection of the soul with the subjective body in its threefoldness. This arrival in the subjective body is no longer unimpaired today—it needs nurturing today.

I am touched by the fact that we can support the subjective bodily aspect of our being through soul forces. Whatever gives us orientation in life, becoming the principles of living which we can believe in, provides security for the soul and promotes its healthy relationship with the subjective body. What we develop in love in the soul has a constructive effect on the life processes in the subjective body and supports healing. That is why love is the greatest medicine in the stream of Paracelsus. In the end, hope lives in every therapeutic endeavor and has an impact all the way into physical subjective corporeality. It can even influence the course of disease: we experience a difference in the course of the disease if a patient still has hope or has lost it. That is why the art of healing is so intensely connected with hope, whereby hope, as Václav Havel emphasises, does not mean that something will turn out well, but that it has meaning. Conversely, it is fear that paralyses us and alienates us from the subjective body.

Where do you experience the homework that needs to be done here: where are the blind spots in Anthroposophic Medicine?

Girke For me, the blind spot includes imagining the I as the highest and the subjective body as the lowest. In doing so, we forget that the highest spiritual work is necessary for the subjective body to come into being. This underlines the sacredness of the subjective body or—as Rudolf Steiner told the young doctors at the time—that the subjective body is not of the human being but of God. This points to a spiritual perspective on the subjective body that isn’t considered sufficiently. We still have some work to do to arrive at a concept of the subjective body that includes this dimension.

Soldner At the same time, Anthroposophic Medicine is distinguished in practice by the fact that it takes the subjective body seriously. We examine patients physically more often than is common today and use a variety of therapies to address the subjective body that involve touch, such as rhythmical massage therapy and external applications. Indeed it seems to me that Anthroposophic Medicine is perceived worldwide as a practice of medicine of touch and warmth. Really responding to the subjective body medically is one of the strengths of Anthroposophic Medicine.

Eros belongs to the subjective body. Anthroposophy seems to be very cautious here, and is even said to be hostile to pleasure.

Soldner As far as the field of sexuality is concerned, I think a lot has happened. I also experience this in educational institutions I’m familiar with nowadays in the field of Waldorf education. It was different one or two generations ago, even in society as a whole. Thus, for example, the way transgender issues are dealt with in Anthroposophic Medicine is alive and open. I believe that in anthroposophy, in Anthroposophic Medicine, we take the subjective body seriously in a special way, insofar as we consider that the embryo forms and builds up its body not only out of the hereditary stream but out of its I, its individuality.

This is a view of the subjective body which I have not encountered elsewhere in contemporary medicine and which is also important if we are to look at the body of the earth in a different way. As long as we treat animals like things, modify plants genetically as we see fit, and treat the soil as an object to be used, we will also treat our subjective bodies ruthlessly. So I would attribute a distancing from the subjective body—sometimes to the point of hostility towards pleasure and the body—to a basic scientific-technical attitude.

Girke We have a philosophy of objectification in medicine that does not stop at the human objective body. Many patients I have spoken to in recent years are shocked at how much they are seen and treated as an objective body. Even if they otherwise receive correct and well-meaning treatment, they feel that they are seen more as an object. One ICU patient said, “A lot was done for me, but it wasn’t directed at my self.” What did he experience? An objective body-centred medicine that looks at pathophysiological relationships and focuses primarily on intervention, not on healing processes. Healing includes all the human constitutional elements and ultimately starts from the I that develops the will to be healthy. Thus there is no operation or intervention in which the higher constitutional elements do not play their part.

The state of our bodies today includes the growth in autoimmune diseases: the body turns against itself. What can be said in this respect?

Soldner First of all there is, of course, this view that the body is an object that I invest in and with which I achieve goals. This is an alienation that can show pathological traits. An essential aspect relating to the development of autoimmune diseases is the conditions that are found with regard to “making oneself at home” in the body in a healthy way. These are very different conditions, and they form the ground for our subjective bodily identification.

We know today that the microbiome of the soil plays a role in whether I can incarnate myself properly, because we incarnate in connection with the world. I don’t incarnate in isolation but in connection with the forest floor, in connection with the animals, with the sunlight. If I lack any of this, it can lead to a disposition for autoimmune diseases. Drugs such as antibiotics can not only damage the intestinal flora but, thereby, contribute to the body becoming alien to us. Ambivalent human relationships are particularly critical—relationships that on the one hand have an intense character of connection and at the same time a more or less subliminal experience of aggression.

Toxic relationships?

Soldner Rudolf Steiner mentions the choleric teacher. The child becomes attached to the teacher and the teacher suddenly erupts in a choleric outburst against the child. According to Steiner, this promotes rheumatism later on. Today, we count rheumatism as a disease in which there is some kind of self-destructive inflammatory activity. We can see, on all levels of the human constitutional elements, that people who experience excessive demands, who are in distress in relation to their own subjective corporeality, or who have difficulty connecting positively with this corporeality, are at risk. Healthy incarnation is a kind of pregnancy and birth through which we first grow together with our subjective body. So, it’s about experiencing the right help at birth in life to connect with our own subjective corporeality.

Girke Indeed, the interesting thing is that autoimmune diseases used to be understood almost exclusively in genetic terms, and today we recognise that the soul plays a role, that there is a psychosomatic influence on the autoimmune process. It is interesting to note that autoimmune diseases, on closer inspection, carry a polarity within them. There are those that harden the body, such as scleroderma, for example, a disease from which the painter Paul Klee suffered. This is contrasted with autoimmune diseases which are associated with extreme fever and inflammatory processes. These are the poles of our subjective bodily organisation: hardening and inflammation. How do our immune cells learn to accept our subjective body? This learning process is related to the thymus. The thymus gland is the school or teaching facility where certain cells of the immune system learn to distinguish between what belongs to the self and what is alien. The thymus is located very close to the heart and organically demands: “Know thyself!” Self-knowledge and world-knowledge are challenges of human development and are likewise found in the organic sphere, in the life processes of the immune system. If the immunological “yes” to the body—self-tolerance—cannot develop sufficiently, autoimmunity develops.

Are allergies something like the little sister of autoimmune diseases?

Soldner They form somewhat of a polarity with them: if autoimmune diseases involve misdirected aggression of the immune system against its own body, then classic allergic diseases are initially based on a weakness of the immune system. I am not able to separate myself sufficiently from the environment. The plants flower, and I also flower when I have hay fever. It is also interesting to note that the farmers and gardeners who mowed the flowering meadows 100 years ago with a scythe never had hay fever. In a sense, they demarcated themselves from the meadow in their external activity and in doing so demarcated themselves internally, immunologically.

When we undertake long journeys to other vegetation zones with infants today, we often overtax their organisms. If we then still have a weak ability to demarcate ourselves, hypersensitive allergic reactions can occur as a result. The allergic reaction is based on the fact that I cannot demarcate the outside world from my inner subjective corporeality. The switches between such overly tolerant functioning of the immune system and its too-aggressive, auto-aggressive functioning are set early in life, especially at the time when the child first develops teeth, between about six months and two-and-a-half years. Antibiotics and antipyretics during this time can severely disrupt this development.

I suppose incarnation becoming a question means that we no longer fully connect with the subjective body and the earth—a freedom to take responsibility?

Girke Autoimmune diseases are related to an altered connection of the being of the I with its subjective body. Type 1 diabetes in children and adolescents indicates an impaired “arrival” in the body. Without insulin, which was introduced into medicine about 100 years ago, all those who suffered from Type 1 diabetes would have to leave earthly corporeality again and die. On the other hand, there is also premature disengagement. Type 2 diabetes in most adults is a premature disengagement from the subjective body and therefore needs therapies that can strengthen the connection between the I-organization and the body through warmth and movement.

Soldner If we look at the most common autoimmune disease, Hashimoto’s disease in the thyroid gland—a self-destruction of the thyroid gland that occurs up to 15 times more frequently in women than in men—then biographically, two things become apparent. Often these people experienced excessive demands in childhood, like a kind of premature emotional birth: children have to take on responsibility at an early age, responsibility that is actually not intended for a child, but rather for an adult. This can happen due to a wide variety of circumstances, for example flight and displacement, excessive demands from or the illness of a parent, separation, and more. We should also include the demands we make of children today, for example in school, especially during the sensitive ages between nine and twelve which play a central role in the maturation of the thyroid gland. Later, in adult life, a similar situation of excessive demands may arise, now from the opposite side, for example when a woman has to make ends meet as a single mother with little financial support. A stressful situation arises in which emotional confidence—”I can cope well with this situation”—succumbs to the emotional fear that I am not good enough. The astral body takes the lead over the I. Then autoimmune inflammation can occur which can destroy the organ in question over time.

Girke We need to spiritually penetrate this connection and then understand where we should set the course differently in childhood in order to prevent such a development. Many patients, especially those with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, can be treated with conventional medicine, but despite optimal laboratory values, they do not feel well. That is the interesting thing: that you can achieve metabolic control through hormonal substitution but not heal in the actual sense. This is where Anthroposophic Medicine begins, also in thyroid treatment, by supporting a person’s relationship with their own subjective corporeality, in other words by making the subjective body “familiar” again, as it says in the [German] title of our annual conference.

Life often shows itself particularly clearly at the boundaries of life. So too with the deceased: when the soul detaches itself, the corpse shows a royal grandeur. Is this part of the riddle of the subjective body?

Girke When accompanying a dying person, we notice that the subjective body reveals the I through its form. Especially in the period immediately after death, when looking at the abandoned body, the impression often arises: “Oh, that’s who you were!” Everything else that appeared in life is like a veiled message compared to this experience. It is astonishing to see what is revealed in the abandoned body. It is an experience similar to the one we know from funeral services, when we experience completely new aspects of the life of the deceased that we did not know before. So there is also a message of the subjective body that can be experienced at this moment, before this bodily form disintegrates. In the lectures after the Christmas Conference 1923/24, Rudolf Steiner pointed to this mystery of the human form which shapes our subjective body and leaves it on death. The form-giving I-organisation detaches itself from its embodiment in the subjective and objective body.

Soldner Let us also look at it from the other side once more: even though we can say that the subjective corporeality of the newborn is strongly determined by the parents, the presence of the I can nevertheless be experienced in the moment around birth, especially in a natural birth. It also shows itself strongly surrounding the subjective body but very much in relation to it. There have already been nine months of work on this subjective corporeality, and I can distinguish between newborns the same way we can distinguish between 80-year-olds. We can observe how this corporeality then begins to almost pupate, and everything changes until a person of about 20 years of age stands in front of us. We experience the transformative and formative processes that take place and how people also change their shape in the process, especially during the years of puberty. The presence of the I in the body is impressively evident!

Is there a question of particular interest to you at the annual conference?

Soldner There is a lecture by Rudolf Steiner on the invisible human being and how it shapes us, makes itself felt every night, and has so much to do with healing. I am very interested in exchanging ideas about this at the conference.

Girke I look forward to working on a deeper understanding of autoimmune diseases at the conference and in the many specialist conferences. It is linked with questions of the development of the human being. How does a new trust in the subjective body come about? Developmental questions also arise for us as therapists. It is to this spiritual deepening—through work on the lessons of the first class of the School of Spiritual Science, the Gospels, and the Foundation Stone Meditation—that the middle part of our annual conference is devoted. In this way the inner development of the therapist can combine with their practical work and strengthen those forces that have a therapeutic effect.


Translation Christian von Arnim
Illustrations Gilda Bartel

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  1. Interesting answers, but is it necessary for warmth and movement to be so expensive? Of course masseuses/masseurs, eurythmists and health practitioners should be well paid, but there are patients who need affordable help. Hope realistic alternative treatments will be a part of the conference work.

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